The notion of pre-measured ingredients being delivered to your door with a recipe book and a vision of a meal may have been a novel idea for home cooks a few years ago, but in 2018, there are about as many meal kit companies as there are varieties of apples. It’s never been easier to skip the takeout menus for a home-cooked meal, but in some ways, never harder for these meal services to differentiate themselves from one another. But up to tackle that challenge head-on is Plated, the five-year-old company based out of New York. The creators believe that their focus on customers will set them apart from their competitors.
Founded in 2012, Plated’s primary strategy appears to be taking a multi-faceted approach to meal kits. As Plated co-founder and CEO Josh Hix told Digital Trends, “We’ve thought from Day One that meal kits (and all perishable food) would need to be omnichannel.”
“Ultimately we’ll be meeting and serving our customer wherever and whenever they want to be met.”
So what exactly does this mean? As Hix explains, “There are just too many different ways that people want to buy and interact with food to sell it all online — for instance, deciding to pick up a single meal at the last minute on your way home from work is not a problem that ecommerce is ever going to be able to solve in a profitable way (not until there are fully autonomous electric vehicles anyway).”
To address this, Plated hopes to bring its products not only to the digital sphere but to the brick-and-mortar universe as well.
As of April 2018, Plated is now available in 40 grocery stores — 20 Safeway stores in Northern California, and 20 Jewel-Osco stores in the Chicago area. And in the coming months, Plated will continue to bring its meal kits to more Albertsons-owned locations across the United States. By the end of the year, you should be able to buy these pre-packaged kits from Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, Acme, Tom Thumb, Randalls, United Supermarkets, Pavilions, Star Market, and Haggen.
Plated is also looking to up its convenience game by offering delivery of its meal kits in as little as two hours by way of Instacart, as well as the option to order online for in-store pickup via Albertsons Companies click-and-collect service called Drive Up and Go.
“Being in stores allows us to offer other ways to buy,” Hix said. “Ultimately, we’ll be meeting and serving our customer wherever and whenever they want to be met.”
Much of this flexibility, Hix said, comes from the wide appeal of meal kits like Plated.
“It turns out that our customer isn’t just one demographic,” he said. “They live all over the U.S. (many of our best markets are not on the coasts), are all ages and lifestyles, and are really defined by their love of food. We’re for people who want to create delicious, distinctive dinners that encourage discovery in the kitchen and amazing experiences around the table.”
We don’t believe meal kits services are ‘complete’ until you can buy them anywhere
Of the many meal kits on the market, Plated may just take the cake when it comes to levels of customization. While others may differentiate solely between meat-eaters and vegetarians, Plated also offers seafood-only recipes, low carb diet options, stovetop-only preparations, low-calorie meals, and other preferences (spicy, gluten-free, etc.). In fact, there are 20 different meal choices offered each week.
“In food, it’s all about understanding and meeting the needs of your customers in an excellent way, every time,” he said. “We don’t believe meal kits services are ‘complete’ until you can buy them anywhere and anytime you want, and have the recipes personalized to your family’s tastes and needs.”
Of course, as convenient as meal kits may be, being a foodie and being environmentally conscious often goes hand in hand. And folks at Plated appear to recognize the conundrum that presents. After all, the sheer amount of packaging that comes in a meal kit is enough to alarm even the most casual environmentalist. But Hix said that his company is seeking to make changes to minimize packaging by doing things like using refrigerated trucks or using smaller containers for in-store products.
“Minimizing waste is a top priority; this is an ongoing effort for our brand and we’re fully committed to it,” he said. “It is important to us, and we know it is important to our customers. For customers at home, we help avoid waste in the kitchen by pre-portioning the ingredients to deliver just what’s needed to make dinner and we minimize waste in the supply chain through predictive analytics.”
As rosy as this all sounds, Hix seems well aware of the challenges ahead, and the difficulties associated with being one of many comparable product offerings.
“We’re not the fastest and cheapest [meal kit] — we think there are great meal replacement options out there for those occasions,” Hix said. “We’ve invested a lot in our technology and data science over the years to personalize the cooking experience for each customer and to guide them through a journey of discovering new food.”
Updated on April 5: Plated meal kits are now available in 40 grocery stores.